Book: Man-Kzin Wars X : The Wunder War (Man-Kzin Wars)

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Chapter 7

"Raargh!"

"Yes. Raargh and humans have met here in caves before. Leonie-Manrret dug Raargh out of trap. Raargh push water out of Leonie-Manrret lungs. Kill many morlocks together. Raargh kill more now."

"Du Alte Teufel!"She added quickly: "No insult. We greet old companion."

Nils Rykermann had been slower to waken fully. At the first sight of the kzin he tried to thrash wildly out of the sleeping bag, then with a fierce effort became still.

"Raargh!" Leonie shook him, "It's Raargh!"

Rykermann became calmer. Then he looked the old kzin up and down.

"You're changed," he said. "You look terrible."

"Kzin is terrible," Raargh replied. "Will show enemies how terrible soon." He went on: "Came seek Rykermann-human. God benevolent and Rykermann here. Rykermann dress in costume quickly. Leonie-Manrret dress too. Is trouble!"

"How did you get here?" asked Leonie.

"Through caves, from north."

"And why?" asked Rykermann.

"You are tired," said Leonie, "and in pain."

"I am Hero!" said Raargh indignantly. Then he added: "You know?"

"Yes. I know. Would bourbon help?"

"Bourbon always help. Or brandy," He added.

"There's something there called liqueur brandy," said Rykermann quickly, "You wouldn't like that."

"Rest a moment," said Leonie, as Raargh drank noisily (deciding privately that Rykermann was wrong about the liqueur brandy). "Have some food, then tell us why you have come here."

They found food for him, not ideal but better than morlock meat. It took some time for Raargh to explain to the humans what had happened to the north and then tell the story of his journey as a Hero should tell it. Alpha Centauri B filled the great mouth of the cave with light, and the true dawn followed it, well before he had finished. He did not know what they knew of Vaemar's lineage and said nothing about it, rather letting them believe by suggestion that Vaemar was his own son. Cumpston, he pointed out, was also a prisoner of the mad manrretti and others who planned a kzin uprising.

"You say there are Heroes there too?" said Leonie.

"Few, not many, I think. The Heroes I saw young. Hot livers. Maybe brains loose like Henrietta-human and other."

"Brains loose?"

"Kzin attack humans on Ka'ashi .  .  . on Wunderland , all kzin die. All kzinrretti, all kittens. All. Vaemar die. Many humans die, too, I think. Then kzin and humans fight in space till all dead.

"Raargh young and Raargh say: 'Attack!' All dead is good if die on attack! But Raargh is old. Raargh think of dead kzinrretti, dead kittens, Rarrgh remember ramscoop raid, think of Sire's tales, think of nukes. and relativity weapons on Homeworld. Raargh teach Vaemar to think. Raargh must think too. And there are monkeys who .  .  . who Raargh does want not should die." He tried to cover this embarrassing admission. "Dishonorable to kill chesss partners."

"What can we do?" asked Leonie.

"How many humans here?"

"Just us, and a few students tidying up outside. Most went back to Munchen yesterday. We stayed because we thought if things were quieter some of the cryptic life-forms might come out."

"Morlocks came out. Raargh ate! Have you weapons?"

"Not many. We cleared a lot of old weapons out of the caves in the last few days, but the students took most of them back to the city. We found a few more yesterday after they'd gone and we have a few for personal security."

"Need weapons. Need force. Go back through caves and eat crazy monkeys."

"We'll have to call for help," Leonie told him. "This is too big for our claws. They must know you're gone by now, and they'll be waiting for an attack."

"They not know Raargh go to humans," Raargh replied. "Not know about old battles with morlocks. Vaemar and Colonel-human let them think Raargh go to Arhus, return with Heroes."

"Nevertheless," said Nils Rykermann, "we must think carefully. Leonie is right. We cannot succeed in attacking them on our own. We have only ourselves here now and four young students," he told Raargh. "They're in the ROTC, of course, but I don't know if they're fully combat trained or experienced apart from young von Bibra, and I have no right to risk their lives. I am going to call Jocelyn van der Stratt." He looked more closely at the old kzin. There were purple and orange bloodstains on his legs at the old wounds and round his neck and shoulders. There was blood on his head as well. Certain apparently fairly moderate head wounds could be fatal to kzinti. "I have known Heroes before who were more badly hurt than they would admit," he said. "Lie down and let Leonie tend you."

"I am a Hero," said Raargh indignantly, "And time is scarce."

"Even if we summon help immediately, it cannot get here for some hours," Rykermann said. "I advise you to rest. We cannot charge back through the caves as we are."

Raargh remembered his delusions in the caves. Certainly, it would be better if such things did not happen again. He knew there was not much the three of them could do by themselves, though had he been younger that might not have dissuaded him. "Think before you leap!" Chuut-Riit had told them. And the pain in his wounds was extreme. He growled a reluctant "Urrr" of assent.

The module's equipment included a large and versatile medical kit. He let Leonie apply a kzin-specific tranquilizer, pain killer and disinfectant and in a few moments—before he could ask Leonie for talcum powder—he was asleep on the floor of the module.

 

"We must start work early today," Patrick Quickenden said. "We've put in a good effort over the last few days, but this hospitality, not to mention seeing a beautiful new world .  .  . It could lull us into forgetting there's still a war on!"

"Something has developed," said Jocelyn, "that may be important. We'd like to take .  .  . er .  .  . Miss Moffet .  .  . to see something."

"She's a key member of this group," said Patrick. "I don't want her put at any risk. In fact I insist!"

Jocelyn looked at Arthur Guthlac. She sent him a silent directive.

"There's no danger," Arthur told him. "Come yourself. It's a fairly short flight in a fast car."

"I don't like it. There are still kzin on this planet. I've seen several already."

"I take your point," said Arthur, "but I'm still a Brigadier. I'll lay on an armed escort."

"I suppose you know what you're doing. But the rest of us will stay here and get started."

 

"Poor old ratcat!" said Leonie. "He's been through the mill. And even partial sensory deprivation is tougher on them than on us. It drives them crazy quicker." The old kzin with his prostheses looked curiously vulnerable asleep, curled something like a house cat in a basket, but with his artificial arm jutting out at an awkward angle. "It would have been more difficult for him than he'll ever admit to have gone so far through the dark and silence of the caves alone."

"They never admit weakness," said Nils Rykermann. "Perhaps they're afraid it would make them seem too .  .  . human." He paused and added suddenly: "You've never hated them as I have."

"There's no danger of forgetting they're not human. And I tried to stop hating them after the cease-fire. It wasn't easy. If we'd had to live through the Occupation in the cities I don't think I could have even attempted it. And he helped, old Raargh. He had me at his mercy once, and here I am."

"Mercy is not a concept they understand," he said.

"Maybe .  .  . and yet, here I am."

"Anyway, I wanted him out for the count. That's why I encouraged him to let you treat him. And all my best brandy from the monastery! Do you think he's telling the truth?"

"I've never known one to tell an absolutely outright lie. But what's he got to lie about? Why else should he be running about in the caves alone and without equipment? And those injuries are certainly real enough."

"But it's such an incredible story!"

"I'm not only your wife, I'm your chief research assistant, remember," said Leonie. "I've kept files. We know Henrietta was—is—probably the most hated of all the collaborators. It was an open secret among the Resistance that she was able to influence Chuut-Riit. There were even some Kzin who accused him of .  .  . of, well, you can guess. Perhaps she influenced him for good sometimes, but that wouldn't count. She was born and brought up under the Occupation and knew no life but that uniquely privileged one in a household of prominent collaborators, to whose headship she acceded. You know that after the Liberation there was a special price on her head. As for the atrocities committed against collaborators, we were lucky. We were in the hills and missed it all."

"It didn't seem lucky at the time. We were at our last gasp. And I wanted vengeance on collabos and on the Kzin.  .  .  .  I still do!" he burst out.

"That won't bring her back," said Leonie quietly.

"It's the next best thing!" Nils Rykermann ground out. Then he bit the air and spun round to face her. He looked as if he had been struck a blow. "You .  .  . you knew!" he whispered.

"I always knew. Wasn't it always obvious? I knew when I was your student that you were in love with her .  .  . and since then that you always have been." She took his hand in both hers and kissed him. "Don't you remember my hair? How I wore it in those days .  .  . with a pink headband?"

"Yes."

"Why do you think I did that?"

"I never thought."

"Because that was how she wore hers. Stupid of me, to try to compete with Dimity Carmody!"

"I didn't know."

"It didn't suit me, really. My hair's darker blond than hers was. My father always called me his little lion cub.  .  .  . I remember, I'd only been enrolled a few days, and I was sitting at one of the Lindenbaum's tables, with some of the other freshers. We were just getting to know each other and find our way around the class-rooms and time-tables, and suddenly we girls realized that all the boys were staring at this blonde two tables away.  .  .  .  I'm sorry, I shouldn't go on."

"Yes.  .  .  .  yes. Please. Go on."

"Who's she? I wondered. A Tridee-star? A fashion model a long way off her turf? Something dumb , anyway, I took for granted, with all my eighteen-year-old sophistication and judgment. The universe couldn't be so unfair as to give somebody looks like that and brains as well! I wasn't surprised when she ordered coffee in .  .  . in that funny little voice she had. .  .  . Then somebody told me: 'Mathematics and astrometaphysics,' they said. I was taken aback and saw that the universe was that unfair. But .  .  ." She gave an uneven laugh. "They didn't let me have it all at once. Even then, in my teenage jealousy, I thought she was just a particularly bright student . You can't blame me: She was no older than I. She must be brilliant to be studying Carmody's Transform, I thought. And then I found out. .  .  . What we put ourselves through as students!

"Then, of course," she went on, "we found out what an unfair universe was really like."

"Yes, love, we certainly found that out."

"After the kzin destroyed her ship, I saw what happened to you. .  .  . You told me something about it as we set up the first clinic at the refugee camp.  .  .  .  Remember?"

"I remember," he said. "I thought at the time that only you would have thought in all that death and terror and chaos to bring low-tech medical supplies away, would have realized our autodocs would be useless without our civilization. But I was a walking dead man then."

"I saw the music box, that the kzin left for you. I knew it was hers. I'd seen her playing it at the Lindenbaum when you and she had coffee there together. I'd .  .  . I'd even thought of collecting music boxes, too, so you might notice me. I joined the chess club, too, for an excuse to hang around there, hoping you might one day come alone and notice me. But you never played chess."

"Because she didn't. It showed up her abnormality too much. She wanted to be normal. Do you know the last thing she said to me?"

"I'd like you to tell me."

"She said—sh-she'd already been injured then: 'It was hard, I know, for you to be in love with a freak. Know, at least, that the freak loves you.' "

"You've got a good memory."

"Too good."

"I love you, Nils. I loved you at the university and in the refugee camp and in the hills. That night in the hills when I told you I'd always loved you, I was telling the truth. It wasn't a student with a crush on her teacher. I'd been there and I knew the difference. And I saw you were falling apart. Don't forget, either, that I've been in bed beside you through a lot of nightmares. Or rather the same one. Oh, my darling, of course I've always known. .  .  . I had to accept that she'd always be with you. What choice did I have? You can't fight the dead, you can only live with them.

"There's something else," she went on, and her voice was stronger, almost exultant. "I was there, remember, when the kzin came to the refugee camp. Very few of us had actually seen them then, and I saw you face a creature that made the brave man beside you fall dead of sheer terror. I was there in the days that followed, when it seemed the whole weight of the Resistance, the whole war, rested on your shoulders alone. Not for a day, a week, or a month, but year after year, and the years became decades and there was no hope and you never faltered. You are not only the man I love, you are my hero!"

"I couldn't have done it, Leonie, without you. Not for a year, or a month or a week. Truly, you were beside me .  .  . love."

"I'm afraid I opened a bit of a flood-gate there," Leonie said after a pause. "For us both. I've been damming that up for a long time too, you know."

"I'm glad you did open it, my love. So glad!  .  .  .  But Raargh's story? And Henrietta?"

"She escaped. You know. Disappeared."

"I know," Nils Rykermann said. "Jocelyn has a particular hatred of her. Her business. I have other fish to fry."

"Until now I thought she was probably dead."

"So did I. But it's a whole planet she's got to hide in. A whole system for that matter. And there are plastic surgeons and organleggers. She might look quite different. New handprints. New lungs to confuse breath analysis. New eyes and new retinas."

"But the main reason I think Raargh's story is true," said Leonie, "is obvious: A kzin both wouldn't and couldn't make it up. A mad monkey devoted to Chuut-Riit's memory trying to lead a kzin revolt! It's so crazy it has to be true!"

"I'm inclined to agree with you."

"And he said he was making his way here to see you anyway, as Cumpston said."

"Yes. But why me?"

"Isn't it obvious? He trusts you."

"Why should he? I hate ratcats!"

"Obviously, he doesn't think you hate him," said Leonie. "Fighting together in the caves may have something to do with that .  .  . perhaps even the fact that he saved my life. And you left the key in the module door."

"I forgot it! And .  .  . and there was no danger around. Morlocks—if there are any left—don't understand keys."

"But kzin do." She quoted, "How brilliantly lit the chambers of the subconscious would be if we could see into them!"

"Who said that?"

"She did. I went to one of her public lectures—on the inspiration of scientific discovery. I knew you'd be there."

"I've tried, you know, I've tried very hard, never to let her memory come between us."

"I know."

"I'll call Jocelyn," Rykermann said after an uncomfortable moment. He keyed a number on the desk and spoke rapidly. "Well," he said a few moments later, "talk about serendipity. She's on her way here already. She's about to leave Munchen with Arthur Guthlac and a party they think I might be interested to meet."

"What's that mean?"

Nils Rykermann shrugged. "No doubt we'll find out. She says Early's had some sort of alarm too." He shrugged out of his robe and stepped into the shower cabinet. "Freshen up, anyway," he remarked, turning on the water.

She dropped her own robe and followed him. "Make love to me," she breathed, winding her arms round him. "I need you."

Their faces were nearly on a level. He did not need to bend to kiss her.

"I need you too. I always need you."

 

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Next: Chapter 8